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New Details on Houston Funeral Plans; Slaughter in Syria; GOP Budges On payroll Tax Cut; Healing Hearts

Aired February 14, 2012 - 05:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. It is 5:00 in the morning, which means it is a very EARLY START. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We are very glad you're joining us. We're bringing you the news from A to Z.

Let's get started here.

BANFIELD: Whitney Houston is back home in her state of New Jersey. Meanwhile, questions are still lingering about what it was that killed her in Los Angeles.

SAMBOLIN: And, you know, we are witnessing a massacre. CNN is now inside Syria. Our Arwa Damon is there. She is taking shelter in a safe house and she is saying the country is headed toward a full- blown war. That's what the folks that are living there are thinking is going to happen.

BANFIELD: And on the election front, some trouble on home turf for Mitt Romney. He's from Michigan and seems to be losing it at this point. In the meantime, his super PAC is funneling a ton of money into that state. But is it going to the right place?

SAMBOLIN: For parents out there, how would you feel if your child was forced to pay for something like not looking a teacher in the eye? Chicago charter schools are under fire this morning for fining children, many from low-income homes, for that and many other things as well.

BANFIELD: One minute after the top of the hour. Some exclusive new details coming into CNN about Whitney Houston's funeral plans, how her family's coping with her death at this time -- all at the same time that her body was flown back from California to the East Coast. She is back home now in Newark, New Jersey, this morning. Pictures that you're looking at now are of the hearse, a gold-colored hearse, arriving at funeral home late last night, tented as they try to somehow maintain some kind of dignity and privacy for the body of the musical singing star.

Whitney Houston's family friend tells CNN exclusively that the family is planning for a funeral on Friday, hoping that they can hold it on Friday, also saying that Bobby Brown is in New Jersey right now as well. And at this point, it is expected that the funeral will be held at the Prudential Center.

Take a look at these pictures, a photograph of Whitney Houston appearing there last night on a giant video screen at Prudential Center.

SAMBOLIN: And also new this morning, in this death investigation, police now say Houston was found submerged under water in a bathtub. She was found unconscious and unresponsive. They did try to revive her. She was found by a member of her staff.

Her body was removed from the tub before security arrived.

Deb Feyerick live in Newark with the latest for us.

And, Deb, you spoke exclusively with a friend of the family last night at the funeral home. What did they tell you?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I did. As a matter of fact, this is a friend of the family who was at the funeral home yesterday.

We spoke this morning, and he tells me that yesterday, Whitney Houston's mom, Cissy, a gospel singer, and also her cousin, Dionne Warwick, were at the Whigham Funeral Home to greet the casket of the beloved Whitney Houston. The mom, he describes her as being overwhelmed, yet at the same time, very, very strong. Her faith is getting her and everyone else in the family through this very difficult time. They describe it saying, you know, although Whitney Houston has passed from this side, they believe that her light is shining very brightly from the other side.

The family, though, they are upset at what they perceive as bashing of Whitney Houston, specifically all the talk about her drug use. And he says that they really want the legacy of Whitney Houston to be remembered as all the things she did for so many people, the children who she helped through her charities, also Christmas in Newark, bringing toys and gifts when she arrived at Christmas in Newark every year. He tells me that, in fact, the daughter, Bobbi Kristina, is in the care of her grandmother as well as her father, Bobby Brown, the singer, who is in New Jersey now.

And the funeral likely to take place on Friday, though plans are still a little bit fluid. But right now, it does like Friday -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Deb Feyerick live in New Jersey for us -- thank you very much.

BANFIELD: And Whitney Houston's longtime friend Chaka Khan is speaking out as well. And she's actually slamming Sony executive Clive Davis and that this decision that was to go on with the pre- Grammy Awards party at the same hotel where Whitney Houston was found dead hours earlier. Houston was supposed to have performed at that party and Chaka Khan tells CNN's Piers Morgan that Houston should have had a supervisor.

Chaka Khan herself is a recovering addict and says the music industry can become a very bad influence on stars.


PIERS MORGAN, HOST, CNN'S "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT": I was seeing these pictures of her apparently falling out of clubs and covered with whether it was blood or wine. But certainly the fact that she was drinking in public in these clubs in Hollywood seemed to me a potential recipe for disaster.

CHAKA KHAN, SINGER: It was -- it absolutely was. And I stand by that. I stand on that. I stand on whoever flew her out to perform at that party should have provided someone to be there, to somehow look -- just keep the riff-raff out of the situation, just keep some of the dangerous people away.

MORGAN: Was she very vulnerable, do you think, Whitney?

KHAN: Yes.

MORGAN: Even to the end to that kind of situation?

KHAN: I am. I'm very vulnerable as a -- you know, I mean I'm not -- I will never do cocaine again, I know that. But we are sensitive, highly sensitive people, entertainers.


SAMBOLIN: Chaka Khan also says it was complete insanity that that party actually went on. Whitney Houston used to be her backup singer.

BANFIELD: I didn't know that.

SAMBOLIN: Quite some time ago.

BANFIELD: Isn't that something?

SAMBOLIN: All right. So, it's 6:30 a.m. We're talking to the head of the nation's drug control policy, Gil Kerlikowske. He's going to explain why he feels that Houston's death is a teachable moment.

BANFIELD: And that's the problem, is that the family doesn't want to focus on the drugs and bad parts of her life, but if it is a teachable moment, you have to be.

SAMBOLIN: And she was spiraling. It was just in all the reports, right, something we saw, so you have to deal.

BANFIELD: You do. You have to deal.

We want to switch gears now as well to Syria, because that nation is either in or on the brink of an all-out war, a civil war, and there doesn't seem to be any letup to the slaughter there. Take a look at the pictures. Again, it's becoming a sick reminder daily of the shelling those neighborhoods are undergoing.

This is Homs. Opposition saying 30 people killed just on Monday, bringing the number to 700 killed just last week. Again, those are opposition numbers, very difficult to confirm though.

But CNN's Arwa Damon has been able to cross into Syria. We are not able to disclose her location, obviously, for safety reasons, but she says the situation there is deteriorating.


ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In the areas where the government crackdown is at its worst, people say that there are snipers positioned on every single street corner. You can hardly cross a main thoroughfare without coming across government snipers. Then, of course, there are all of the tanks and the government checkpoints.

It's an incredibly intense situation here and it's also incredibly emotional. Anger is running at an all-time high, as is frustration and desperation.


BANFIELD: Just to underscore how remarkable it is that Arwa Damon was able to get into that country, because that area where she is, is virtually ringed by government forces.

We're covering this story from all different angles, in the surrounding countries as well. Our Nick Paton Walsh is live in neighboring Beirut, Lebanon.

All right. Nick, it's hard to tell the story daily. It seems the story is the same every day, but a glimmer of hope I saw, that the Arab Red Crescent was actually able to get blankets and some supplies into these neighborhoods. But we all know those vehicles have been targeted as well.

How are they able to get in? And is it just, basically, a needle in a haystack of desperation?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, at this point, we are still unclear exactly whether these goods were able to get to the worst-hit areas. I think it's pretty clear that Baba Amr, which is the focus of the Syrian army shelling over the past 10 days, this 10-day-long onslaught has not received that much humanitarian aid.

I spoke to an activist there Omar (ph), that I've been talking to for a number of days and he describes this as the worst shelling in five days. That's pretty significant given that 400 people have died from this onslaught since it began 10 days ago.

As we were talking, he was describing how it's impossible to be safe anywhere in that area. All they can try to do is stay indoors, but blasts kept interrupting his conversation, kept interrupting what he was saying, shaking the room, making him tell his friends to run away and stay away from the windows, in case the glass were to shatter and injure them, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Nick, let me ask you just quickly about the Arab League, because obviously, one of the decisions that group came to is that they want to support a U.N.-connected peacekeeping force. Is that getting any more traction? Is it sort of just spiraling until we get bigger nations, particularly Russia and China, on board?

WALSH: Yes, absolutely. I mean, there's a lot in its way.

Let's start with the people in Homs. They think it's a waste of time. They're not seeing their lives change on the ground at all.

Then, let's go to the Russians. Well, the Russians want to see a ceasefire first before peacekeepers go in. That's a big ask. On top of that, they don't want any outside interference. So it's hard to see how these peacekeepers could be compatible with the Russian position.

And then on top of that, there's the Syrian government who say they consider this all flagrant interference in their sovereign affairs, so they're against it, too.

So how much talking we see in the days to come, it seems pretty likely to say there are a lot of very damaging road blocks in the way of this peacekeeping initiative. Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: All right. Let me just ask you one other question about Syria's U.N. ambassador. Apparently, he is calling this an aggressive and illegitimate criticism of his country, and he's saying that all of the critique of what's going on there is an effort to undermine the government.

All right, that's the U.N., and we all know apart from China and Russia, there's a lot of criticism coming from about every angle at the U.N. How is that being received?

WALSH: To be honest, we've heard this before from the Syrian regime. They promise reform. They consider this to be a conspiracy. They occasionally get some kind of diplomatic (INAUDIBLE) from the Russians who support them in some of that idea, also referring about how people shouldn't interfere in other countries' sovereign affairs.

But, really, at the end of the day here, I think the dominating thing is this ongoing onslaught against Homs, pretty much undeniable by anybody, the casualties are rising. The U.N. human rights coordinator talking yesterday about frankly how this is potentially a war crime given to the credible evidence they've seen day in, day out.

So, the Syrian protests of conspiracy seem increasingly hollow, if not almost at times ridiculous -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Nick Paton Walsh live in Beirut, thanks very much for that.

SAMBOLIN: It's 11 minutes after the hour. Every morning, we give you an EARLY START to your day by alerting you to news happening later and stories that are just developing now, but they will be the big story tonight.

Well, getting to know the next president of China. Xi Jinping is expected to meet with President Obama today. That's in Washington, D.C. He is set to take over as president of China in March of 2013.

BANFIELD: In just a few hours, we're going to be getting another snapshot of the GOP race because a new CNN/ORC national poll is set to be released 4:00 Eastern Time. And this one interesting because there are a couple of other polls out that suggest Rick Santorum is catching up to Mitt Romney.

SAMBOLIN: And who will be the top dog? I'm not talking politics, literally dogs. The top 2,000 dogs representing 185 breeds, all vying to be named best in show at Westminster kennel club dog show in New York City. That is tonight. Love that show.

BANFIELD: And you know what? There's not one mutt in that crowd, let me tell you. They're adorable all, but not a mutt among them.

So, we like to mind your business around this time of the morning, not because we're nosy, but because we think you need the updates.

U.S. stock markets were closed higher yesterday -- the Dow, the NASDAQ, S&P 500. That's the best indicator, by the way, for your stocks in your 401(k). All of them arrows up.

So, why the optimism? That Greece is going to avoid default after a strict austerity plan was pushed too far, especially when you saw all the people going crazy over that austerity program.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. So -- but there's some bad news after the closing bell pushing stock futures a little bit lower this morning. One of the top credit rating agencies, Moody's, is downgrading six European countries.

So, let's bring in Christine Romans. She's in Atlanta talking about this.

Christine, do these downgrades really matter?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: You know, they tell us I think, Zoraida, what we already know. And that is that it's going to get complicated and long road to fix Europe's problems.

It's so funny, listening to you talk about the markets, I feel like the Paula Abdul song from the '80s with three steps forward and two steps back, right?

SAMBOLIN: That's a good one.

ROMANS: And that's exactly what it is, you know? Then we get optimism about Greece, then we're concerned about some of the other countries.

I want to show you quickly the countries that Moody's downgraded, among them -- Italy, Spain and Portugal. These are countries whose debt markets were very, very key now on watching because they have an awful lot of debt and they have to figure out how to grow their economies and also cut their spending.

Also, Moody's did something else that was getting a lot of attention. France and the U.K. their ratings stayed the same, but they put them on what's called outlook negative, meaning they could cut those ratings. Those are a couple of very important countries, too.

So, does it matter? It doesn't change anything today, but it tells us what we really already knew, that there's an awful lot of work to do. And so, that's why you have futures down a little bit this morning, ladies.

BANFIELD: So, I'm hearing this little nugget about AT&T customers who may be finding their service somewhat slowed if they're big into downloading, you know, huge files and videos and that kind of thing. What's going on?

ROMANS: You know, it's interesting, they told us this could happen. This is for people on the unlimited plans. If you become that top 5 percent of heavy users of your cell phone -- I mean, if you're using it a lot for video, GPS services, you're playing a lot of games, you might be in that top 5 percent. And so, AT&T is slowing you down. They're putting some speed bumps out there.

So, what might have taken a couple seconds to download is now taking a couple of minutes. And maybe you've noticed this -- you're getting text messages about it too, saying you're getting close. It's kind of hard to tell whether it's going to happen to you also. I mean, Verizon does it as well, but it depends how congested the cell tower is, depends on where you live.

But basically, we are gobbling up so much data, we are using our phones in so many new ways that they're having to manage the traffic, basically, and that's irritating some people with these $30 plans, no question. And I'm sure the companies are trying to steer you into maybe a tiered plan or something.

But really interesting how we are just, our use of the data is growing and these companies are trying to have to figure out how to manage the traffic.

SAMBOLIN: That's kind of a younger demo, right, 18 to 35, that uses that kind of data on their cell phone?

ROMANS: I don't know, but some people who are using the data, like GPS, for example, for their job, GPS. You know, my iPad, I couldn't believe it, it kind of tells me where to go. It's almost like, I don't know --

SAMBOLIN: She got a newer generation. That's very telling, Ms. Christine.

BANFIELD: I get my newspapers on my iPad. I'm not sure if that's one of the heavy uses. By the way, I hate being called a heavy user of anything, but, you know, I wonder if I fit into that demo. I'm going to assume I do.

ROMANS: You know, the word they use is throttling. They're throttling, which is an interesting word as well, but, you know, they have you been throttled by AT&T. That's such an interesting question.

SAMBOLIN: All righty then. On that night, Ms. Christine Romans, thank you very much.

BANFIELD: An x-rated minding your business this morning, Ms. Romans. Thank you very much.

SAMBOLIN: Fifteen minutes after the hour.

There is some snow and ice moving across the South and the Midwest, and tracking it for us is Mr. Rob Marciano.

Good morning.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning. Heavy users getting throttled. Happy Valentine's Day!

BANFIELD: Didn't want to repeat that, my friend. Won't let that get by.

SAMBOLIN: Very sweet. Happy Valentine's Day to you.

MARCIANO: Good morning. Taking you to Little Rock, Arkansas, snow yesterday coating the roadways and causing some accidents and issues there in the capital of the state, but nonetheless, for folks in Arkansas, a pretty sight. We had anywhere from two to some cases six inches of snow up through Missouri, St. Louis, Kansas City and north into Iowa, and that system is now moving off to the east.

A little sleet mixing in at times last night in Atlanta, north Georgia, seeing a little bit of mixed precipitation at this hour, but generally speaking, the system is spreading out, weakening a little bit and pulling in some warmer air as well. The rain-snow line is, give or take, the Ohio River. So, Cincinnati seeing some snow, Lexington, Louisville, seeing it mix in with a little bit of rain, and the amount of accumulation we expect to se today before the next system comes in, just a few inches, and then again falling apart before it gets to some of the larger cities.

Some dense fog this morning, San Antonio, Houston and Austin right now reporting some fog with visibilities below a half a mile. So, you may see some there delays at the airport. Dallas and Houston, as mentioned, New York and Philly, Atlanta, some clouds, and Cleveland, some snow and another system coming down into southern California.

Guys, enjoy.

BANFIELD: Wait, no (INAUDIBLE) this morning. It's Valentine's Day for us?

MARCIANO: Didn't I say happy --

SAMBOLIN: You did.

BANFIELD: I wanted you to sing. I'm asking too much.

MARCIANO: I wore a Valentino tie, how's that?

BANFIELD: Oh, very nice. Nicely done. Understated elegance.

SAMBOLIN: I think just a happy Valentine's Day.

BANFIELD: I'm asking too much.

SAMBOLIN: Seventeen minutes after the hour.

Ahead on EARLY START: an anxious time for Mitt Romney here. He is losing to Rick Santorum in his home state. The polls are out. Can his supporters buy Michigan?

BANFIELD: Now, here's a story for you. Justice? Well, how about Supreme Court justice? One of ours was robbed with someone yielding a machete. I'm not kidding here.

You'll find out exactly what went down and how one of our high court's finest got out of this one.

You're watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: Twenty minutes now past 5:00 on the East Coast. Time to check top stories making news for you.

Whitney Houston's body has arrived in her home state of New Jersey this morning, her family talking about holding a memorial service on Thursday with a funeral on Friday, possibly at Prudential Center Arena in Newark.

In Syria, it is on the brink of total war there, civil war. The opposition saying 30 more people were reportedly killed on Monday in Homs as the U.N. works on a resolution to condemn the Assad regime.

Back in this country, House Republicans reversing their position and agreeing to extend the payroll tax cut without demanding spending cuts that would offset the costs of that measure.

SAMBOLIN: The New Jersey state senate passing a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage. The state assembly votes on that measure Thursday.

And yesterday, Washington became the seventh state to legalize same-sex marriage.

And this is kind of a bizarre story. The machete-wielding suspect who robbed Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer last week in his Caribbean vacation home is still on the loose this morning. Breyer was not hurt. The suspect got away with about $1,000 in cash.

Machete-wielding. Good gracious.


SAMBOLIN: And the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum releasing some of former First Lady Jackie Kennedy's personal papers to the public. Among them, notes of her televised tour of the White House 50 years ago. Everybody remembers that.

BANFIELD: Still coming up ahead on EARLY START, we have some new information about Whitney Houston's final days from one of her closest friends. She'll weigh in on just exactly where things stand with that investigation and the plans to memorialize her.

And then also, here's a strange one. Is MySpace becoming the new Facebook? A million new users in just this month. Why is everybody taking a second look at this product?

You're watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: It is 24 minutes past 5:00 on the East Coast and we're getting an early read at your local news that's making national headlines. Got all the morning papers here and we want to take some stories from Dallas and from Chicago. This is from "The Dallas Morning News."

It refers to air traffic controllers. That is a very busy airport, if you've ever gone through DFW? Well, apparently, Dallas- Ft. Worth now facing a shortage of air traffic controllers. The FAA says somewhere around 65 percent of the more experienced controllers among them are eligible to retire, early, in fact. They're saying don't worry about it yet because it's unlikely they're going to all jump ship at once and go for early retirement, but --

SAMBOLIN: They've got new ones training?

BANFIELD: Working on it. Apparently, they're working on it, saying there are measures in place to assure there are plenty of well- trained controllers available to take over. But if you are looking for a new vocation, perhaps this would be the time.

SAMBOLIN: It takes a while to train to do that.

BANFIELD: At least a while, yes.

SAMBOLIN: All right. "Chicago Tribune" here, my hometown.

There's a network of charter schools charging students $5 for minor disciplinary infractions. So, things like untied shoelaces, dozing off in class, bringing chips to school. When a student receives more than 12 detentions, they have to pay $140 and attend behavioral classes, and that's what they're paying for, those classes.

Some parents and activists are outraged. They call the fines a tax on low-income families. They actually marched over to city hall yesterday in protest.

But I have to say, there are some parents that actually think it's a good idea. So, we're going to chat a little bit more about this later and get other folks to weigh in on whether it's a good idea or a bad idea.

How would you feel about that?

BANFIELD: You know, I've got a 4-year-old and a 6-year-old. So I'm not on that stage yet, I think.

SAMBOLIN: If you were. This is a high school that is doing this.

BANFIELD: I think it's a thumbs up. I'm the tough love, you know. I'm in the tough love bracket.

I just want to show you quickly, this "New York Post" cover, "Thugs Mug Judge," which is what we were talking about.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. A machete-wielding --

BANFIELD: Stephen Breyer being held at knifepoint in Nevis, and robbed. I wonder if it will change how he is on the Supreme Court. He's considered one of the more left-leaning judges, so it would be interesting.

Once you're a crime victim, a lot of things change.

SAMBOLIN: When I heard machete, I thought OK, there's a strategic, there's a certain section that would use that really as --

BANFIELD: Machete. I know, it's remarkable.

SAMBOLIN: I thought he was in Puerto Rico, quite frankly.

BANFIELD: Because that's where he grew up.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, and we use machetes all the time.

BANFIELD: Heavens! That is a very odd thing to say.

SAMBOLIN: It is. I grew up on a farm and you do use a machete to get through the bush, so absolutely --

BANFIELD: It makes more sense.

SAMBOLIN: It makes sense. No, we don't use it as a weapon.

BANFIELD: I didn't think that, but it sounded interesting.

So, rolling on the river like Rick Santorum is on that wave right now, and it's taking him to Michigan where Mitt Romney is starting to sweat because Michigan's his home state and already the polls show he's not doing so well there. That's going to change.

SAMBOLIN: Can he buy his donors back in Michigan? We're going to talk to our panelists. They're coming up really shortly.

You are watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Good morning to you. Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BANFIELD: I'm Ashleigh Banfield. Nice to have you here with us this morning at 29 minutes after the hour. Time to check top stories.

Whitney Houston's body arriving back home in her home state of New Jersey, where she is set to be buried later this week. Investigators now playing down the amount of prescription drugs that were reportedly found in the hotel room where Whitney Houston died.

Also in the news, rumblings of total, all-out civil war, as violence spreads in Syria. The opposition saying 30 more civilians killed just yesterday, many of them children. On top of that, the number is closer to 700 of those of died last week.

And the man in line to be China's next president is set to meet with our president, President Obama, today. Xi Jinping is set to take over as president of China in March 2013.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): I hear he's a gregarious sort.

BANFIELD: And a really interesting past. He's been in jail. I mean, fascinating, fascinating stuff.

SAMBOLIN: Right. And talk of a big breakthrough in Washington. House Republicans making a major concession in negotiations over extending the payroll tax cut for 160 million working families. They now say they will not demand spending cuts to offset the cost of the tax cut.

And the Grammys getting its biggest rating since 1984. That is the year "Thriller" won Album of the Year. The recording academy says more than 39 million viewers tuned in to see the show with so many curious about tributes to Whitney Houston, perhaps, who died just one day earlier.

BANFIELD: And of course, on that story, we have some exclusive new details about Whitney Houston's funeral plans and what her family is doing. A family friend is telling CNN that the funeral is likely to be held on Friday of this week. Her body was flown overnight from California to her hometown of Newark, New Jersey.

Her ex-husband, Bobby Brown, is apparently now in New Jersey. All of this as Beverly Hills police reveal that Houston was found under water and unconscious within 30 minutes of her death. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD: Our Deb Feyerick is live in Newark with the very latest. She spoke exclusively with a family friend. And Deb, you got some new information about Whitney Houston's mom as well.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. The friend, who was here at the funeral house last night, says that the mom, Whitney Houston's mom, Cissy Houston, is very strong. Clearly, she's overwhelmed by everything that has happened, but her faith is getting her through. Even though Whitney Houston not here, they believe that she is still a light on the other side, and that she's shining through.

There've been a lot of reports about Whitney Houston and whether she was abusing drugs at the time of her death, and the friend says absolutely not. He says that, in fact, Whitney Houston had been clean for three years. There were prescription medications in her room. She was, apparently, being treated for a throat infection, and there were some medications for anxiety and to help her sleep.

But as far as all that drug abuse that's been reported, that appears to have been over. She was back in a good place in her life. We're told that not only was her mom here, but her cousin, Dionne Warwick, was also here. And really, the legacy that the Houston family wants is for her to be remembered for all the wonderful things she did, for when she came to Newark during Christmas time, during Easter, the family celebrations.

The friend telling me that the real Whitney Houston was not necessarily the Whitney Houston that you saw out in public. The real Whitney Houston was the woman you saw in church on Sundays just singing her heart out, part of a large, loving, and welcoming community, and that's really the message that they're trying to send, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Obviously, family as well as friends trying to sort of harness that issue of her legacy. And to that end, actually, Deb, last night, our colleague, Piers Morgan, had Kelly Price and Chaka Khan on his program, two of her terrific friends, and they both spoke about the condition that Whitney Houston was in, and they had differing opinions about that. Let's listen to it, and then, want to get your thoughts afterwards.


MORGAN: As one of her close friends, how do you feel about what was being allowed to happen to her?

CHAKA KHAN, SINGER: OK. I have strong feelings about that. I, too, was an addict. I know. If I were on a set of a movie, even now -- I've recovered for seven years - we'd have made -- if I was coming to a city like L.A., we'd have made specific plans that I come in the night before or day of the performance, especially if you're still, if you're not giving on into proper treatment and gotten really handled, gotten your situation handled. Yes, that was the first big mistake, for her to come in an entire week before her performance at the party. I'd have never done that.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Say there was nothing wrong with her. Obviously, you know, her past battles have been very public. Did she seem, in any way, high to you or intoxicated? I think, in the past, I heard you'd said she'd been drinking champagne.

KELLY PRICE, SINGER: Yes. Everyone pretty much had had champagne at some point in the night. They were toasting the event, toasting the Grammy nominations. That's what was going on. She was not high. I'm a girl that grew up in the projects in New York City. I know high when I see it.

She was not high. We were literally just having a great time. We were having a celebratory time, and I stick to it because it's the truth.


BANFIELD: You know, Deb, obviously, Kelly Price on "Anderson Cooper" last night, you can tell these friends are desperately trying to sort of get this genie back in the bottle, almost, to try to get everyone to remember just this miraculous voice and this incredible presence as opposed to the later years, which were distressing for a lot of her fans and anybody who followed her music.

FEYERICK: Yes, but you know, you speak to family members now, and really, what they're telling you is that she really had cleaned up her act. She felt comfortable with her life, comfortable with her career. The hard drugs that she'd been doing, they were no longer an issue in her life, according to this friend that I spoke with earlier today.

He said really, you know, she had gotten her relationship with God back, and she was just at a really good, good place. Now, whether the prescription medications were simply enough in combination in a bath to allow her to doze off, that's one thing that the coroner's office, obviously, that's one of the things that they're looking into. But as far as any sort of existing abuse now, a friend says it just wasn't there.

BANFIELD: All right. Deb Feyerick live for us in Newark this morning. Thank you. Thank you for that.

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): I guess the final word will come from the toxicology reports, and then, everybody will know.


SAMBOLIN: Of course, the family would want to rally behind her.

BANFIELD: It does stand to reason, though, that there are already these reports that investigations are out there with regard to where some of these prescriptions may have been purchased, the pharmacy that sold Michael Jackson some of his lethal drugs as well. SAMBOLIN: We're going to talk about the drugs about that, specifically. How does this continue to happen in light of Michael Jackson?

BANFIELD: Story's not over, that's for sure.

SAMBOLIN: No, no, no. Thirty-six minutes past the hour.

Ahead on EARLY START, Michigan's primary is just two weeks away now. Mitt Romney behind in his home state. How his supporters are now trying to spend their way to win?

BANFIELD: And some hopes out there for heart attacks victims. How your very own cells could help to save you? We'll explain what it means. You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: So, it is beginning to look like the next two weeks could make or break Mitt Romney's bid for the Republican nomination. The Michigan primary's only two weeks away. Romney's camp pretty concerned now. The Super PAC is digging deep, throwing an additional half a million dollars into Michigan for ads. Here's why they're doing it.

The latest American research group poll shows Romney trailing Santorum in Michigan, 33 percent to 27 percent. Romney, you know, grew up in Michigan and his father was governor there. So, what's going on? Let's ask our panelists. Live in Washington, Democratic strategist, Maria Cardona, David Drucker, political reporter for "Roll Call," and here in New York, Gretchen Hamel, executive director of "The Public Notice."

David, I'm going to start with you. We're going to start with those polls there. Romney, apparently, has a serious reason for concern here. Michigan was considered a done deal for him among, you know, the things that we mentioned. He won it easily back in 2008. How likely is a Santorum win? And does this become a game-changer?

DAVID DRUCKER, POLITICAL REPORTER, ROLL CALL: Well, I think that as with everything in this race, every time we think we know what the playing field is, every time we think something's going to finally set this race on a permanent track, it hasn't, so I wouldn't make too much of the Michigan polling today, except that you're right, it should be concerning for Mitt Romney. He's behind.

And a Rick Santorum win in Michigan could make him competitive on Super Tuesday. So, yes, it's concerning, but there's two weeks, it could turn around. Of course, Mitt Romney entered Florida behind. He had, I think, ten days or less to turn that around, and he did.

And so, there's -- as we've seen in this race, plenty of time for anything to happen. Rick Santorum was down for a long time, and now, he's up. And so, it's a race.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. It's been a bit of a roller coaster ride. Maria, I want to stay on Michigan, though. A pro-Romney Super PAC is buying an additional $640,000 of ad time in Michigan, and that's actually tripling its spending there.

Until now, the Super PAC was targeted at Gingrich. We assume that they're going to target Santorum. There are only two weeks left for these ads to have any effect. Do you think they will?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, unfortunately, what we've seen this cycle is the tremendous show of negative advertising. And what we've seen is that it works. David's right. This is what Romney's strategy was going into Florida after Newt Gingrich's win in South Carolina, completely eviscerated Gingrich in Florida, and it worked for him. Absolutely, they're going to do that now because --

SAMBOLIN: But Maria, he had a lot more time for those ads in Florida. They aired for a very long time. This is only two weeks.

CARDONA: That's exactly right. So, we'll see what kind of damage he can do. I think that it's very concerning. This is where I disagree with David. I think it's very concerning for Mitt exactly because of that. He doesn't have as much time for the negative ads to work. Plus, this Michigan poll is not an outlier.

You've seen actually polling nationally where Santorum and Romney are now basically tied, and his numbers are tanking among independents. And so, that is of huge concern for Mitt Romney. If he loses his home state of Michigan, I absolutely think it's a game- changer moving forward.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So, Gretchen, let's talk a little bit more about those numbers and the independents. If we take the independents out of the polls, Rick Santorum is actually ahead by 24 points. Romney's been called the electable candidate, right? But the last poll had him tied with President Obama. He cannot connect with the conservative base. Are you concerned that this is just a fundamental problem for the GOP in general?

GRETCHEN HAMEL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, THE PUBLIC NOTICE: Well, it is maybe a fundamental problem for the GOP when it comes to connecting with conservatives for Romney, but, you know, there is a conservative base a part of the Republican Party, but at the end of the day, this election will be decided by the independents.

Romney has to swing to the right in order to get through this primary. That's typically what you see of candidates. They start their campaign off by singing to their base and then swinging back over into the middle, and that's what we're going to see Romney do.

Now, how he's looking in Michigan, he does have a conservative problem in Michigan, and he's going to have to fix that in the course of the next two weeks, and two weeks is a lifetime in this primary. But what will really happen and what will really decide this race is Super Tuesday in March.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So, my last question for you. It is kind of off base, I contend, because the Catholic Church is involved in politics right now, that perhaps it's not. You have to follow the rules here. It is a one-word answer today. So, we're going to focus on the news in entertainment.

Nicki Minaj getting a lot of heat from the Catholic League. I assume that you've seen this picture. We have some video here to show you at the Grammys red carpet. She wore a red robe that looked like a cardinal's robe, or perhaps, little red riding hood, we're not sure. She was escorted by a man dressed as the pope then did that performance there, centering on exorcism. Here are your options, offensive, amusing, or plain stupid? Maria.

CARDONA: That's a tough one. I'm going to say amusing.

SAMBOLIN: Amusing. David.

DRUCKER: Plain stupid is two words, but I'm going with that.

SAMBOLIN: Plain stupid, and Gretchen.

HAMEL: Plain stupid. She didn't think it through.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you very much. Appreciate your time this morning. We'll see you again a little bit later.

HAMEL: Thank you.

BANFIELD: Still ahead on EARLY START, some said it's a social dinosaur, social media dinosaur, but is MySpace making a comeback? And what does music have to do with it? You're watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Forty-eight minutes past the hour. It's time to check the stories that are making news this morning.


SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Whitney Houston's family is talking about holding a memorial service on Thursday with a funeral on Friday, possibly at the Prudential Center in Newark. It holds quite a bit of people there.

And Syrian forces resuming their shelling of Homs in the last few hours as the U.N. works on a resolution to condemn the Assad regime.

BANFIELD (voice-over): Scientists at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles as well as scientists at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore say they have successfully used a patient's own heart cells to re-grow new heart tissue and help undo the damage that was caused by a heart attack.


BANFIELD: Huge, huge jumps in technology there.

And also, the once dominant social networking site, MySpace, is making a big comeback.


BANFIELD: The company says it added a million new users in the last month. A lot of people saying it could be because it is repositioning itself as a music site. Justin Timberlake and a group of investors bought that site back in March.


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): I haven't used MySpace --

BANFIELD: -- for June of last year. I did, and I kind of, you know, I don't know --

SAMBOLIN: Migrated to Facebook?

BANFIELD: I migrated, but I also don't do a lot of social networking. I found it interesting that Facebook just walloped MySpace, and now, here's Justin Timberlake and his group saying, well, you know what, we're not going to beat them or join them, we're going to do something different. They've got 42 million songs that are free, by the way. So, that's not a bad idea.

SAMBOLIN: That may be a huge.

BANFIELD: That alone.

SAMBOLIN: Fifty minutes past the hour here. Ahead on EARLY START, schools fining students for what some are calling minor infractions. Parents are now protesting. We're going to really dig deep into this story for you. You're watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: Yes. Tommy Lee and company with Motley Crue singing us in with "Smoking in the Boys Room."

SAMBOLIN: That will get you kicked out of school, right?


SAMBOLIN: No questions asked.

BANFIELD: Smoking in the Boys Room -- if you're curious to that version, that's the newer version. That was (INAUDIBLE) the 1970s anthem which we all grew up with.

Here's the story. Parents in Chicago are getting real angry over a charter school's plans to fine some of the students for minor disciplinary infractions.

SAMBOLIN: Some might consider them minor, though. Noble Network Charter Schools is charging the children, these are high school kids, $5 for a long list of infractions. So, here's some of them, chewing gum, possessing soft drinks, not tucking in shirts, and carrying a permanent marker. There's a long list, though.

The educators say the policy helps curb bad behavior, but some activists say it's a predatory tax on low-income communities which the schools serve. And so, joining us now is one of those activists protesting this policy, Judy Browne-Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project. Good morning to you, Judy. We just saw a list of some of those there. So, explain to us why you think it is unfair.

JUDY BROWNE-DIANIS, CO-DIRECTOR, ADVANCE PROJECT: Well, it's unfair because what our children need are safe, high-quality schools that put them on a path to college and career, not schools that punish them, fine them, and arrest them.

And what is happening at Noble Street schools is that these parents are being faced with either trying to pay their utility bills or paying the school for fines for things like you didn't tie your shoelace? I mean, it's just outrageous that schools would do this instead of nurturing our children.

SAMBOLIN: Well, but at the high school level, don't you think that the children should be on better behavior, because it affects classrooms, right? They're disrupting classes with some of their bad behaviors.

BROWNE-DIANIS: Well, but we're not talking about that. I mean, what we're talking about are things like you're not sitting up straight in your seat, you are not articulating clearly, you didn't tie your shoelace, you brought potato chips to class. There are other ways to handle this kind of behavior, which is very minor behavior, instead of alienating children, fining their , and putting them on a track to prison.

SAMBOLIN: But it has been successful, right, in changing the behavior at that particular school? And there are some parents who actually agree that this is a good idea.

BROWNE-DIANIS: Well, I mean, this is a school also that has -- let's put this in perspective. They have, in the past year, gotten almost $200,000 off of the backs of hard-working families. What they should be doing is teaching proper behavior, not punishing and fining. We know from everything across the country that the more suspensions, the more detentions, it's not effective.

What happens is the children drop out, that they fail academically, and that they are the people most likely to be in the criminal justice system.

SAMBOLIN: Well, here, when you talk about that, dropping out, they have an 86.2 percent graduation rate. They actually call it the secret sauce to providing a high-quality urban education, is having some of these programs in place because the parents aren't addressing these things at home.

BROWNE-DIANIS: Well, the secret sauce comes with some bitter pills, because, in fact, you can have a high graduation rate, but the point is, is that families that cannot pay these bills have to get pushed out of the schools. I mean, they get kicked out. This isn't a regular public school. This is a charter school that gets to choose who gets to go to their school. And so, you can inflate your graduation rates by kicking kids out.

At the end of the day, there's got to be common sense discipline. We need schools, like in Baltimore for example, they reduced suspensions. Their suspensions have come down by 64 percent, and their dropout rates have come to all-time lows. We need schools that are nurturing our children, that are safe, not kicking them out.

SAMBOLIN: Judy, you mentioned $200,000 that they've collected in fees. Do you know what they do with that money?

BROWNE-DIANIS: Well, we're told that they use that money to pay for teachers to sit in the detention time and for other kinds of supplies. But the bottom line is that we shouldn't be taxing hard- working families. What we should be doing is correcting behaviors, teaching kids a different way, making sure that they're on track academically and on a path to college or career.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Judy Browne-Dianis, we appreciate your time this morning.


BANFIELD: And still ahead in the next hour, we've got some new information on the death of Whitney Houston. Her body has now been flown to her home state of New Jersey. All of this as her family works out the plans for a funeral in front of thousands. You're watching EARLY START.